We’ve commented before – if not in other reviews here then certainly in the pub – that certain films are less about genuine tension, more about what that bunch of pixels is going to do to that bunch of pixels (and yes Michael Bay, I’m looking at YOU). For the bulk of this film’s 144 minutes – I’ll say that again, ONE HUNDERED AND FORTY FOUR MINUTES – that’s very much the case. It’s The Hobbit III – this time it’s impersonal.
Part of the problem is that, after the protracted first film, the second part was actually damn good so this third one was always likely to suffer by comparison. Also, while we’ll acknowledge Jackson’s ability with an epic storyline, is it a coincidence that the second film, which, if memory serves, came mostly from Tolkien’s imagination was so much better than a first part which, if memory serves, featured a whole heap of stuff not in the book? And now here we are with the third film, based on a storyline that runs about 40 pages and devoting over a third of its running time to a battle that takes up some three pages of the book. Oh dear. While in Jackson’s hands that’s unlikely to be a total recipe for disaster, it is, sadly, a recipe for major disappointment.
When the characters you recognise are on screen, things are terrific. Freeman’s gruffly sensible Bilbo is a Hobbit clearly changed by what he’s gone through, and Armitage’s Thorin, self-absorbed and obsessed with power, is a very fine performance indeed, and the scenes between the two are what give this film its heart. Sadly these are few and far between. Hell, I’m not sure you even see the titular Halfling for the first hour. Instead that’s given over mostly to the perils of Lake Town and assorted catch-ups with the likes of Legolas, Tauriel (Lilly) and Gandalf who, for a powerful wizard, is remarkably adept at getting captured and thrown in cages. Save for Smaug’s attack – and Bard the Bowman (Evans) doing what his name suggests – it all just feels like padding, as Team Weta gears up for the big fight. And while that’s all very technically impressive, it’s kind of hard to, you know, give a flying one.
Look. It’s not terrible. It’s slick, well made, there’s some terrific acting and, if you’ve made it through the six hours that went before, you’ll probably want to complete the cycle. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that somewhere in this overblown series, there’s a really good four hour film (or a triumphant two-parter) trying to get out.